Jack of all trades, master of none

In theory, a jack of all trades is someone who has many different skills and can therefore do many different kinds of work. I used to believe that such people existed.

The problem is that, whenever I thought I had discovered a jack of all trades, I eventually found out that this wasn’t actually the case. Looking back, there were two reasons for my misjudgments.

The first was that I didn’t actually know what an exceptional person in a specific line of work looked like. Since I didn’t know what a master looked like, I couldn’t distinguish between a good performer and a master.

The second was that I had multiple types of work that needed to get done and it was easier to attempt to fill them with a single person than to put in the greater time and effort necessary to find multiple people to fill the roles. The concept of a single silver bullet was romantic. Unfortunately it wasn’t realistic.

The reason why a jack of all trades no longer makes sense to me is because it takes time to be exceptional at something. And since we have a fixed amount of time, if you spend your time doing multiple things rather than allocating the vast majority of your time to a single line of work, you can be pretty sure that you’ll eventually fall behind someone with similar talent who focuses on a single objective. They’ll set the standard for what’s exceptional.

I guess that’s why they eventually started saying “jack of all trades, master of none”.


Also published on Medium.